Mars can change quite a bit in a mere 100 years
This blog post is about John Carter of Mars.
This blog post is actually about two men named John Carter of Mars, and they are very different men, and one of them is over a hundred years old.
I spent last night watching the first two thirds or of DIsney’s John Carter of Mars. I made the classic mistake of reading the book first.
This isn’t really going to be a long rant about how the book is better than the movie, because they are different things. Watching the movie, I can tell it is a labor of love. John Carter is from Edgar Rice Burroughs 1912 book a princes of mars, which is awesome, and then a hundred years later Disney gave us a movie after almost 80 years of trying, and the movie is awesome, as inevitable as comparisons between the two are.
The movie is awesome, and I am going to talk about that, and it made a very grave error, and I will talk about that as well.
The movie was pretty awesome. First, the special effects and visuals, which are normally not the most important parts of the movies - transformers 2 is still bad no matter how many polygons they can render on a screen at once. But John Carter of Mars and the Princess of Mars have a very specific ascetic, and the world is there. The airships are not what I originally thought of in my head, but I accepted the look immediately. The space man technology felt rgiht. The weird Arizona desert mars dreamscape is cool to look at, it feels alien and familiar all at once, and I felt at home with the red barbarian-tech ascetic of Helios. Visually, the film is there, and it transports you to this crazy ass world.
The aliens were shorter than they were in the books, but this is just and right, as you need to film them in the same shot as people. It’s a kid’s movie, so the violence was drastically toned down, and the violence is toned down, but the violence was never taken quite seriously in the book in the first place. John Carter kills a lot fewer people because you know, kid’s movie.
The movie was, however fun, and that’s the most important thing. I read the book to get fun out of it, and adventure is what is delivered. I was perhaps ready to forgive a couple plot elements that I think are stupid (the fact that Sola was Tars Tarkas daughter was a big deal in Princess of Mars but was clumsily handled and entirely pointless as a plot element in the Disney Movie). But I still had fun.
There is one major discrepancy that can’t be overlooked, and that is that there is a John Carter of Disney and a John Carter of Burroughs. It’s really cool because these are basically meant to be quintessential heroes, and our cultures choose to portray the same man very differently.
The modern John Carter is Han Solo, more or less. He woos the ladies. He is mostly after gold but gets caught up in the struggle of the Red People of Mars. He knows how to fight, but only fights if he is in danger. He’s good at it though. When approached by Powell to fight Indians on the side of the Union, he says hell with both sides. His main motivation is to get home.
Princess of Mars has a very different man transported to the strange Martian world. He’s a confederate captain. He’s a southern general. He defends the honor of women. He is honest and courageous only because the cowardly option doesn’t occur to him. He is terrible and women and woos them through only his good deeds and character. He is a confidant man and skilled in weapons, and knows when to fight and when to surrender. As a modern reader, he was over the top in some ways, but the diction made me feel that he had a real voice, which juxtaposition with the Scifi Adventure was really interesting and cool. He was written as an ideal southern aristocrat. John Carter is a hero, tired and true,
I am very glad I watched both in a very short period of time, because I think it shows a lot about how culture changes in a hundred years. Our idea hero is batman, not superman. We sure like our anti-heroes. The aliens are basically four armed people and not violent savages with a bizaare and murderous culture. John Carter gets his rank of chieftain for a brave rescue in the movie, but in the book he just kills another chieftain in battle over an insult. The aliens don’t understand friendship until captain carter teaches it to them.
Also, the book is a lot more violent, and I suppose want to hide our children from that. And some of the thinking in the narration is defiantly a sign of the times, and it is probably best we don’t take that to the silver screen. (not that anything in the book is directly racist, but there is a brief battle at the beginning of the novel featuring Indians that was drastically changed).
In short, they are both very interesting and I’d recommend them both.